Research demonstrates that “writing is the result of a very complex, highly individualized process [Composition Center of
Dartmouth College, n.d., online], with the steps needed to produce a product as important as the product itself” (Shellard & Protheroe, 2004, p. 22). Therefore, I will focus writing
instruction in my eighth grade Language Arts class on the writing process; including “prewriting, drafting, editing/revising, and publishing” (Shellard & Protheroe, 2004, p. 22). Additionally, “another way in which teachers can help students develop as writers is to make explicit connections between writing and the content-area knowledge base” (Shellard & Protheroe, 2004, p. 21). Because the content I am teaching is the American tall tale, I will make these connections by assigning students to write their own tall tales, based on the features of the tall tales we are reading and studying. Finally, we know “providing students with an opportunity to understand—and to apply—the concept of audience is another aspect of effective writing instruction” (Shellard & Protheroe, 2004, p. 29). To provide my students practice in writing for a particular audience, I will have them publish their final products as children's books and share them with Kindergarten students.
Maine Learning Results:
G.5. Write for both public and private audiences.
E. 1. Use direct feedback from peers and teachers to revise and polish the content of their finished pieces (1999).
Writing assignments are “more likely to yield quality writing when [they are] more directive and complex” (Shellard & Protheroe, 2004, p. 20). Therefore, I will explain to students that they are to compose a tall tale that includes a “larger-than-life” hero, a realistic American setting, elements of exaggeration, rising action, a conflict, a climax, and a resolution. As a prewriting activity, students will have thirty minutes to complete a graphic organizer that includes a brief description of each of these elements of their tale. In addition to helping students organize a clear plot; this task teaches them the importance of prewriting as part of the writing process.
Students have read several examples of American tall tales prior to this writing assignment, as models for their work. I will also provide them with the rubric that will be used to assess their final writing product. Additionally, I will provide students with the peer response guides they will later use to discuss their work with partners. As Duke and Sanchez (2001) explain, “when students know in advance that these questions will form the foundation of any response to their writing, they will tend to anticipate how those questions might be answered…and take pains to try to have all of the questions answered as positively as possible” (p. 39). Therefore, a class discussion about the tall tales we have read, the rubric we are using, and the peer response guide will benefit students and help them brainstorm, as a pre-writing activity.
Shellard and Protheroe (2004) state that “while working on their first drafts, students should be urged to simply get their ideas on paper without worrying about spelling, word usage, punctuation, or handwriting” (p. 24). For three class periods following our prewriting activities, students will work on their first drafts while I circulate among them, assisting and encouraging them in developing their stories. I will remind students that these stories are intended for a young audience, with the purpose of entertaining as well as demonstrating what a tall tale sounds like. I will use “non-directive leads” (Duke & Sanchez, 2001, p. 40) to help students meet their writing objectives, while reassuring them that they are making positive progress as authors.
Editing and Revising
While I will be informally conferencing with students throughout the drafting process, I will also provide a class period for them to peer conference. Students will exchange stories, read a peer’s work, proofread, and make suggestions for further revision. “Proofreading is one activity that helps students to focus on the mechanics of writing and so can be used to reinforce grammatical skills” (Shellard & Protheroe, 2004, p. 31). Additionally, I will provide students with a response form to fill out while reading a classmate’s work, including sentence stems to help them express questions and suggestions for revisions that go beyond grammatical changes. This peer editing process will help students learn to proofread and improve their own work, as well. I will then provide a class period for students to work on rewriting and revising their own stories in a second draft. I will remind them to refer to the scoring rubric, which requires clear elements of plot, descriptive details, features of a tall tale, and correct mechanics. This will give students a “clear sense of the expectations surrounding their completion of (the) writing assignment” (Duke & Sanchez, 2001, p. 40-41).
Publishing their work is the fun part of this assignment for most students. Again, with a young audience in mind, I will provide a class period for students to illustrate their stories and another for them to print their work, illustrate a cover, and fasten their pages together into a children’s book. As I have done in previous years, I will arrange a time (coordinating with a kindergarten teacher and providing permission slips for parents) to walk from our middle school to the nearby elementary school. Students will each partner with one “reading buddy” and read their tall tales to the kindergarteners. If time allows, they will be able to switch partners and share twice. This experience will “help students make their own meaning from subject matter” (Duke & Sanchez, 2001, p. 16); in this case, our lessons about tall tales. They will be viewed as authors by the younger students, and will also come to view themselves as authentic authors.
“Students encounter few opportunities to become familiar with analyzing audiences and determining how the identification of audience should influence what is written” (Duke & Sanchez, 2001, p. 20). This assignment provides the opportunity for students to write for an authentic audience; and to experience the audience’s appreciation and enjoyment of this writing. As Shellard and Protheroe (2004) explain, “sharing their work with others gives students the opportunity to see if their audience gets the intended message or reacts in the intended manner” (p. 30). Further revisions are certainly allowed if students find they need to clarify their writing to suit their audience. This lesson will be a rewarding experience for my eighth graders, as they get to work as writers and create books to keep and to share. The concept of a tall tale, and its place in American literature, will become memorable to these students.
Alvermann, D., Phelps, S., & Ridgeway, V. (2007). Content area reading and literacy: Succeeding in today’s diverse classrooms. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Duke, C., & Sanchez, R. (2001). Assessing writing across the curriculum. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.
Shellard, E., & Protheroe, N. (2004). Writing across the curriculum to increase student learning in middle and high school. Arlington, VA: Educational Research Service.